Sydney-Hobart beckons China Sea Race winner

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


On Boxing Day, Geoff Hill will be at the helm of Genuine Risk and lined up with the rest of a large fleet for the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. He will be hoping it is a case of lucky 13 for him.

'I have raced the Sydney-Hobart 12 times, winning in 2006 on handicap on Love And War. But this time I hope to grab line honours, because traditionally the winner of the race is always the boat which crosses the finish line first,' says Hill.

Buoyed by the success of his newly purchased Genuine Risk, a Dubois 90 Maxi which won line honours at the Rolex China Sea Race from Hong Kong to Manila over Easter weekend, Australian Hill, 65, has set his sights on winning the famous Sydney-Hobart classic outright. 'I believe we have a good team and most of the crew has previously done Hobart,' the Hong Kong-based Hill said. 'I also think Genuine Risk, following her wins in the Newport Bermuda Race and other events [before he bought her] is a serious contender among the bigger boats in offshore races.' Built in 2004 as state of the art at a cost exceeding US$8 million, Genuine Risk was 'picked up for a song' by Hill last year. He was amazed she had been so lightly raced 'with only 1,200 hours on the clock, which is less than 50 days'.

A blue-water racing buff, Hill, a merchant banker, hopes to remedy that. And he got off to the best possible start, clinching line honours on the 50th anniversary of the China Sea Race even though he couldn't quite break the race record set by Karl Kwok's Beau Geste in 2000.

Now he has set his sights on the 628 nautical mile race from Sydney to Hobart, which gets off to tremendous fanfare every year on the day following Christmas.

Hill will have at his side Syd Fischer, who sailed with him on Genuine Risk in the China Sea Race. Fischer, 84, is one of the most experienced offshore sailors, with 40 Hobarts, winning the race a number of times on his boat Ragamuffin. Hill can also draw upon the experience of another seasoned Hobart campaigner in David Witt. But while encouraged by the China Sea Race performance, Hill is well aware that the Sydney-Hobart is a different beast.

'It is one of the most challenging races in the world,' he said.

'The two are totally different races. The China Sea Race is a pure ocean race across the South China Sea while the Sydney-Hobart is a coastal race for approximately two-thirds of its length, and of course, crossing the notorious Bass Strait. It will be colder, almost certainly rougher and significantly more competitive than the China Sea Race, which by the way is one of the most underrated world-class races.'

In 1998, 115 boats began the annual race from Sydney Harbour. Fierce storms and violent winds battered the fleet and only 44 boats made it to Hobart. Six sailors died, five boats sank, 66 boats retired and 55 sailors were taken off their yachts, mostly by helicopter.

Hill took part in that race, and was among the boats that retired.

Hill was hooked on sailing in 1983 when he watched Australia win the America's Cup in Newport. He hasn't looked back since.

'I was standing that day next to Alan Bond and it was an amazing feeling. I have been sailing since, for the past 30 years or so, in Asia and Australia and have completed most of the challenging offshore races, including two trans-Atlantics,' Hill said.

A successful career allows him the luxury of devoting more time to his hobby. 'We will be taking part in the Koh Samui Regatta next month before delivering the boat to Australia [a professional crew will sail the boat to Sydney] aiming to arrive by early August.'

Hill added: 'Taking a 90-foot boat to Australia to race against outstanding maxis like Wild Oats, Skandia and Loyal will be a big challenge. It's an exciting race, one at the pinnacle of sailing. And it's fun as you do it with a bunch of mates.

'The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club has a history of its members competing quite successfully in the Sydney-Hobart. Last year, we had boats from Hong Kong - Strewth and Freefire - representing the club. We hope this time, we can win line honours. That would be something.'